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Peshawar children haunted by Pakistan school tragedy

Child survivors of December's shooting at a Peshawar school are living with the trauma

15.01.2015 - Update : 15.01.2015
Peshawar children haunted by Pakistan school tragedy

By Sardar Hussain

PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Nightmares and terrifying flashbacks haunt the children of Peshawar, still traumatized by the Taliban massacre that killed 134 children at a school in the northwestern city last month.

Friday marks a month since the Dec. 16 attack, which saw a group of gunmen raid an army-run school and fire at children and teachers during a day-long siege. 

 Among the survivors is Ayaan, a class eight student. His father says that he suddenly wakes from his sleep, crying and saying "they" are out to kill him. 

“They are there, hiding in the bushes, with long beards, grenades, bandoliers, and AK-47s, they will kill me, they are killers, I cannot escape,” Azmat Hayat, Ayaan's father, relays his child's nightmares. 

“For the first time I realized what is the pain and aftershocks of terror attacks for survivors. I have learnt what mental trauma means for kids who experience terror attacks. It’s an existential load which this child will carry on for the rest of his life,” says Hayat.

“He has lost his focus, his interest in life, he is no more a vibrant and playful guy. He looks like he is being haunted by terror all the time,” Hayat says.

Dr. Khalid Mufti, a renowned psychiatrist, says victims like Ayaan suffer for long periods of time and need therapy and mental health counseling. 

“Those who have seen the death so close are the worst victims of psychological implications of the terror attack,” says Mufti. “Psychological therapy and parental love can potentially take them out of the mental trauma.”

“Nevertheless, there shouldn’t be any letup in counseling and mental health therapy of the children and women being affected by terrorism as it may cause further implications, therefore ignoring them means paying a heavy price,” he warns. 

Parents of children affected by the attack, and by previous violence in Peshawar, complain that government-run hospitals lack facilities for psyschological counselling and fear the children's mental health will deteriorate without this support. 

Dr. Najma, a children's psychologist, says the impacts of violence is visible upon Peshawar's population, with many of her child patients suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms. 

“With mental health therapy, the kids shouldn’t be allowed to start thinking about why the situation permitted violence on such a deadly scale; the flashback scenes shouldn’t be allowed to take hold in any way in their brain,” she says.

Tanveer, another survivor child, says even the sound of slamed doors trigger flashbacks of the attack. 

“I cannot sleep normally. What I need is to reformat my memory and reinstall a new life picture, but this is something I cannot do,” he says.

“Sometimes I feel that time will heal my psychological scars and I will succeed in burying that tragic day behind, but when I go to sleep I feel troubles and all the bloodstained bodies and shoes strewn all around, reappear in my brain. This is how I have been living since that horrific day.”

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